Recently in About Islands Category

kava.jpgHere are residents of Tokou village enjoying some kava in their brand new community hall. In exchange for Seacology providing funds for the hall, Tokouans established a 365-acre marine reserve. (more project info here:

It took me a few tries to wrap my head around this headline about a recent NOAA study:

US Residents Say Hawaii's Coral Reef Ecosystems Worth $33.57 Billion Per Year

Did you catch that? We often talk about the "worth" of coral reefs in terms of the revenue they can generate for local communities via fishing or tourism. But this is different. This is the amount of money Americans say they're willing to pay to ensure that Hawaii's reefs are safe and healthy.

Thumbnail image for DSC07965pEARLWALL1OCT07.JPGThe key point here is that the survey pool comprised "a representative sample of all US residents" -- meaning, it included tons of people who have never seen Hawaii's coral reefs and never will. They just like the idea that they exist!

In fact, when you look at per-household figures, it turns out they like it a lot.

The study breaks down coral reef conservation into two types: "Ecosystem-wide Protection & Restoration" and "Restoration after Localized Injuries." (That last one referring to fixing the damage caused by, say, wayward boats.) Put them together and the average amount a household is willing to pay is $287.62.

Sound like a lot? It is. Forgive the rough comparison, but say your household income is $50,000 (about the national median) and you're married with a kid. Two-hundred and eighty-seven dollars is more than you would pay in federal income taxes for everything other than Social Security and Medicare -- meaning national defense, health care, unemployment insurance, education, NASA, FEMA, Homeland Security, and so on, combined. And that's just for the coral reefs in Hawaii!

Who knows if these households are truly prepared to pony up $287 in the name of reef conservation. But even if the number is inflated, it suggests something quite interesting: it may be easy for us to not think about conservation, but it's apparently very difficult for us to choose inaction... so long as we're asked to choose something.

We just got this GLOWING update via email from our field rep in Indonesia about the 99,000-acre marine reserve off the coast of Daram Island. (Seacology is funding the construction of a community center in nearby Fafanlap village in exchange for their support of the reserve)

It was so great we just had to share:

The last time I dived this site was with the Seacology trip in 2007 and while it was spectacular four years ago, the reef has exploded with fish life since then. For the first time we saw schools of Napoleon wrasse, blacktip sharks and aggregations of big grouper, all of which seem to have been locally extinct on most Indonesian reefs for over a decade. There were so many fish on this dive that our heads were spinning. I was emphatically pointing one way and Mark was emphatically pointing another way the whole dive. I came out of that dive exhilarated and full of joy and hope that other reefs in the Misool area, with continued protection, will also look like Fafanlap in just a few short years. If they do, I can foresee that S.E. Misool will have THE best diving in the world, hands down.

Dealing with Drought: Mitiaro Island

One of the things we've learned at Seacology is that all islands, however similar they may seem, each face a unique set of challenges. Some islands in the South Pacific, for instance, get all the rain they can handle. But in Mitiaro, a 12-square-mile island in the north-eastern end of the Cook Islands, they can't get enough.

During Mitiaro's dry season (typically from June to November) the island's 200 residents must rely on reserves they store in water tanks. When they suffer droughts -- as is the case right now -- they may have to resort to dipping into the island's natural resevoirs, the pristine fresh-water pools found in remote caves.

But even that isn't so simple, since just getting to the pools can be challenging and dangerous. One cave requires that you climb down a tree and then navigate steep, slippery rocks before you reach the water.

Our project in Mitiaro addressed both these issues. In exchange for the conservation of 3,000 acres of forest (roughly a third of the island!) we funded the installation of a safe pathway with handrails to the cave pools, plus the renovation of eight 10,000 gallon water tanks (pictured below).
Seacology funded refurbished water tank Mitiaro water tank.jpg 

This Times article about Haiti's dying reefs I think illustrates an important point about marine conservation efforts: it's not necessarily a case of environmentalism-vs-industry. You need to protect reef habitats in order to prevent the kind of "Tragedy of the Commons" scenario we're seeing unfolding in Haiti, where over-fishing continues even when it's obvious it's bad for everyone in the long run.
In Haiti 54,000 fishermen rely on the ocean for their livelihood... [and in] recent decades, as their usual catches of Nassau groupers and snappers have dwindled and disappeared, many of them have subsisted by netting and spearing small reef fish that keep coral clean of algae. Now those too are almost gone, and the algae have taken over....

Pierre Guy LaFontant, Haiti's director general of fisheries, acknowledged that overfishing was a problem and said that officials were receptive to the idea of establishing protected waters. But if the government cannot enforce its existing fishing regulations, can fishermen be persuaded to abide by an invisible line in the water?

But of course it's not as simple as just protecting and waiting, since these Haitian fishermen have basic short-term needs that can't easily be put on hold.

Henry Hilaire, who has fished for 36 years, gathered nets from a sailboat with several other Haitians in waters that Reef Check hopes will eventually be protected.... Mr. Hilaire pulled two small fish, each about five inches long, from his basket. "It's really too young to keep," he said, but "circumstances are such that if we didn't keep them, we'd go hungry."....

They're desperate, trying to survive, so how do you tell them not to fish here?" asked Romain Louis, 37, a literature teacher hoping to become part of the eco-diver team.

Mr. Louis suggested that the fishermen would need an incentive... "Maybe, if these fishermen got a trade-off, they'd stop fishing on overfished reefs."

The whole article is worth a read... As bad as things are for Haiti's coral reefs, it's good to know that conservation efforts are beginning.

Seacology is funding the construction of a new community center in Banjar Anyar, a small village on Indonesia's island of Bali. Part of the agreement is that the good pepole of Banjar Anyar continue to serve as the guardians of the surrounding Batukahu Forest.

So what kinds of creatures are being protected? Here's a quick tour of some of Batukahu Forest's residents:

The forest cat has big eyes and is very ferocious, while the long-tailed macaque looks a little sad, but their babies are adorable.

Meanwhile, the pangolin looks a lot like an armadillo, and the flying fox (AKA the kalong) is not a fox at all, but instead a rather large bat.

Today's blog is a guest post by Seacology's partner Arkive, a multimedia source for information and images of endangered species. 

Islands around the world are home to some of the most unique, bizarre-looking and biologically important species on Earth. Most people won't ever come face-to-face with these plants and animals and alarmingly, the majority of the world's species extinctions have taken place on islands over the past 400 years.


However, there is a way to come virtually face-to-face with the enormous Coconut crab, the stunning Fiji banded iguana and the playful Hawaiian Monk Seal., considered the Noah's Ark of the internet era, is leading the "virtual" conservation movement by utilizing the worldwide web to create a free, online resource of images, films, sound recordings and biological fact files for the 18,000+ species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Visitors to ARKive can learn about what each of the over 12,000 species in the collection looks like, where it lives, how it behaves and why it is special. If a visitor to ARKive aimed to learn about one species every day in the collection, it would take nearly 2 years for a visitor to learn about each species currently on ARKive!

Celebrate Earth Day!


Although islands cover just 5% of the world's land area, they contain over half of all recent species extinctions. Earth Day is next Friday, April 22, and it's the perfect time to celebrate our planet by helping protect these islands and their wildlife.

With only one click, you can do just that: Berkeley-based jewelry store Nina Designs, which supports fair trade and women's equality at their factories in Thailand and Bali, is raising funds for Seacology this Earth Day. For every person who "Likes" Nina Designs on Facebook before April 22, the store will donate $1 to Seacology. Click on the image below to go to the Nina Designs Facebook page--and be sure to share it with your friends!


Flooding in the Oceans?


Floods in the ocean may sound like an oxymoron, but the truth is that many marine habitats are highly sensitive to fluctuations in water levels and the changes they bring. Today, we are seeing a tragic example of this in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest reef system. The torrential rains that have been pummeling Australia this year bring many unwanted gifts to the nation's waters and reefs. Flooded freshwater rivers carry extra freshwater out to sea, creating a shift in the salinity of the Great Barrier Reef's waters. Species like coral, shellfish, and others are highly sensitive to changes in their environments, and even a small decrease in the ratio of salt can have devastating impacts. These rivers also bring with them many fertilizers, pesticides, and sediment flushed out by rainwater, and each carries a different threat for the reef: Fertilizers stimulate the growth of marine plants like algae and seaweed, which chokes corals and other native species. At the same time, foreign chemicals from pesticides can be toxic to sensitive marine plants and animals. And while sediment may be "natural" compared to fertilizers and pesticides, too much can muddy ocean waters and block sunlight from the corals, plants, and other species that thrive in shallow ocean waters and depend heavily on adequate lighting. Ocean currents carry river effluents far and wide, so even waters in southeast Australia make their way up to the Great Barrier Reef.


To make matters worse, coral reefs are in no condition to bear these challenges. While a robust reef might be able to weather them with relatively little long-term effects, the world's reefs today are already debilitated by climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and other threats. Adding floods to the mix may put them over the edge. As global warming continues to bring more extreme weather, such as the flooding Australia is currently experiencing, the Great Barrier Reef and other marine ecosystems will be on increasingly fragile territory.

Above, an aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef, the largest thing on earth created by living organisms. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 


Welcome back to Seacology's "Islands 101" blog series! Knowing that not everyone eats, sleeps, and breathes islands, we've put together some basic information to help bring you up to speed on the ins and outs of island conservation. If you haven't already, check out our first and second "Islands 101" posts, which covered island geography, ecosystems, ocean zones, and species.                                                                                                                   

Islands are found in all regions of the globe and off every continent. However, some areas are more island-filled than others, and one of these is the Pacific Ocean. You've probably heard of Polynesia, but do you know where it is? What about Melanesia? Seacology has projects throughout the Pacific--from Chuuk to Java, Fiji to Tuvalu. Read on to learn where in the world these islands are found.